Fixing Major League Baseball + Declining African American Representation | Crooked Media
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April 05, 2022
Fixing Major League Baseball + Declining African American Representation

In This Episode

Jason welcomes Lindsey Adler (The Athletic) as a special guest as Mike Petriello ( joins the show to unpack decades of change in Major League Baseball & predict where the game is headed. Jesse Washington (Andscape, formerly The Undefeated) comes on to explain why on-field African American representation in baseball continues to decline.


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Jason Concepcion: In 2022, we need to work harder than ever to inform and mobilize voters to make sure their voices are heard in spite of the efforts of anti-democratic forces across the country. That’s why Vote Save America is launching its biggest volunteer effort yet and asking you to be part of your region’s midterm madness team. East South Midwest West. Sign up to learn more at Vote Save America dot com slash midterms. Receive actions you can take every week to get involved in the most important elections in 2022. Hello and welcome to Takeline, I’m your host, Jason Concepcion a great show this week with Lindsay on the pod today. It’s so great to have you here today with opening day just around the corner. It’s a perfect opportunity to talk about just what’s going on with the state of the game right now. Coming off of a, you know, a lockout. What does Lindsay Adler and MLB’s Mike Petriello think of the state of baseball in 2022? And then we’ll be talking to The Undefeated’s Jesse Washington about a podcast that he has coming out as part of ESPN’s package for Jackie Robinson’s 75th anniversary of integrating baseball. Lindsey, I actually daydream about getting signed by the Yankees and then deciding not to cut my hair just to see what they would do. What are they gonna do? I think it’s legitimately a First Amendment issue, like no bullshit. Like, I think if you really want, if you really wanted to go to the mat with it and you just be like, it’s a First Amendment issue, it’s my right to express myself via my hair.


Lindsey Adler: But the issue is like some of some of these guys get so horny for the Yankees thing.


Jason Concepcion: The pinstripes and the no name on the back and the mystique and the whole thing, the legacy of the entire thing back to the, you know, 1927 the whole thing. Yeah. Its so true.


Lindsey Adler: They say they they come, they come here and they say things like First Class Organization.


Jason Concepcion: Yeah, they love to say that


Lindsey Adler: I’m like, Oh, First Class Organization. OK, well, you can still have a beard and be a first class organization like.


Jason Concepcion: I mean, like I know I have like, you know, Yankee friend Yankee fan friends whose families like argue bitterly about names on the back of the jerseys. Like how? Oh, that’s that’s not legit. What is that you’re wearing with the name on the back and on it? Like, it’s like, what do you?


Lindsey Adler: You know? I mean, was you’d like. I guess I like I respect people who are insane purists because in some ways I can beat, but it’s like the amount of money a replica jersey costs is. I can’t fault anyone for wearing a judge ninety nine jersey because they should not be paying the cost of money it takes to get, you know, the replica. Like I remember even a couple of years ago where in Anaheim and CC Sabathia went to the team store to like, buy Mike Trout jersey or whatever, and he came out of the clubhouse. He was like three hundred and fifty fucking dollars for this? I’m like. Yeah, it was. It was something crazy. And I was like, even CC is complaining.


Jason Concepcion: You know, you’re right, Lindsay. And I think it’s something, you know, it’s a lot like the debates about, you know, like student loan forgiveness or, you know what it or like paid internships. It’s like, Oh, I came up that way. And that’s how it should be. You should be tough enough to like that’s the Yankee Way. And and somehow any kind of like progress or change is would would demean the legacy of the Yankees in some meaningful way. And it’s it’s just really funny to me, like a Yankees fan.


Lindsey Adler: Like, I just I just don’t think the players can escape it because there is always people to throw back at that at them, you know, like Derek Jeter would never do that, right? And it’s like Derek Jeter was like a fuckin like dog, man,


Jason Concepcion: yeah he was a scumbag,.


Lindsey Adler: You know, he just he just kept it up. You know, but it’s like, there’s so many things, you know, like,  Yeah.


Jason Concepcion: Derek Jeter wouldn’t grow his hair out, he would give gift baskets to his to his various conquests. But that but he wouldn’t grow his hair out.


Lindsey Adler: They’re just like, Yeah, there are just so many people who might even be on Jeter, who have sort of like, fit this very old idea of decorum. You know, I mean, we’re talking about like the nineteen fifties here. Like, what do you think is interesting is like a lot of the cultural stuff like has changed, like the players have loosened up a lot and like the league has loosened up on letting them wear like cleats or colors or whatnot. And like, you know, you do see some like cool shit on the field. Now part of the problem is like the people watching the sport don’t know what the fuck those shoes are. So I don’t know. So I don’t know. I don’t know how you can really make the style like a cool thing when nobody knows what they’re looking at. Because like, I go into the clubhouse and I see these guys with their Jordan deals or whatever, and I talk to them and I’m like, Oh shit, like, those are great. But one, you know, like other people will ask me, like, what are those? Or Why do they cost so much? And yeah, like when you explain sneakers to people who don’t care about them, you sound like truly nuts, you know, and it’s easy for them to say like, OK, well, they get them for free. So I get it. But it’s like even like the cool things about ballplayers like. Most of their fans don’t understand. Cool.


Jason Concepcion: Yeah. I always ask any of my like hardcore baseball people this, but it’s, you know, baseball to me. It’s by kind of nature, the most conservative, least progressive sport, and I think it’s a victim of its own success in that regard. It rode high for so long that there was no reason to really change anything. That said it, it feels like we’ve reached a point where there have been so many small changes that have kind of been left to the side because of this like natural inclination to like, kind of like not tweak stuff. Then now it feels like the sport is in a place where. A lot of stuff needs to change, kind of like more quickly than would then would be natural to be like non disruptive, like whether it’s various changes to the structure of the sport with trying to, you know, pitch clock, the robo arms, et cetera, stuff like that. The expanded playoffs and stuff they’re doing now. And that’s on top of these kind of. More, you know, issues more about marketing and framing the sport in a way that is exciting and reaching younger demographics where they are naturally on social media, on the internet. It feels like all this stuff needs to like happen now. Yeah. So what would you do like if Lindsay Adler is put in charge of baseball? What is your plan of attack to kind of like tackle some of this? Like what would a baseline stuff that you would you would enact?


Lindsey Adler: You know, I’ve I’ve really become a person who does think that there are probably rule changes or just things to change the esthetics of the actual game that probably need to happen. You know, for for a big dork like me, I’m going to watch the game no matter what, you know, like strikeouts are interesting to me because I spend all of my time talking to people about pitch sequencing and design. But like, I understand, you know, for most people watching at home, you know, seeing 14 strikeouts in a game is probably not as interesting to them as it is to me. But also like the fundamental issue is like they have so many great and cool players now, like truly like cool and interesting players who play with style. And so, you know, you you get you get one out that from Ronald Acuna every couple of innings and you have to sit through a game that is esthetically very void of action at a time when something like the NBA is very, you know, there’s know


Jason Concepcion: pace, pace, pace, movement,


Lindsey Adler: pace, ball movement, you know, big threes, whatever. And you know, the issue on why players are not more famous falls to both parties here. You know, like I think about this a lot like who is the transcendent ball player of the ballplayer celebrity? It’s it’s Alex Rodriguez. Yeah.


Jason Concepcion: You know, for right now, to me, this is the most fascinating thing to talk about regarding baseball. I think that the average the average person who watches television and checks in on sports, kind of, which is to say, like the average American, I would bet Mike Trout has like the lowest facial recognition amongst that fan of any of the top stars in any of their sports, not even like hockey aside football, baseball, basketball and Mike Trout is like a god.


Lindsey Adler: Mm hmm.


Jason Concepcion: Why is that the case?


Lindsey Adler: So, you know, it’s it’s interesting. I think I think it’s a number of things like it’s it’s just not Trout’s personality.


Jason Concepcion: That’s true.


Lindsey Adler: To put himself out there and it’s not. And I think, you know, what’s interesting to me is that like, yes, he’s he’s the best player in the game. He has been for about a decade now. He plays in baseball purgatory, you know, for a team that keeps pretending that they’re going to improve. But then they finish at, you know, seventy eight wins every year. I mean, it’s so frustrating. And so there’s actually this like phenomenon where like people who wanted people do appreciate Mike Trout have made Mike Trout famous for not being famous. You know, it’s like he has so many cheerleaders. He has Major League Baseball like trying to pump him up when they can. You know, he has writers, you know, like there are writers. I know who you know, there’s one writer I know who like every Monday, he tweets some like Mike Trout baseball reference stuff. You know, the players talk about him constantly. There are so many people who’ve been invested in, you know, giving Mike Trout this public profile that he would never speak for himself. And there’s there’s a lot of blame to go around on ballplayers not being more famous, like Major League Baseball has not historically done a great job of that, but also they can’t get cooperation with players like the players play 162 games. They don’t want to spend their off time, you know, doing things on behalf of Major League Baseball for no additional compensation. And over the last five years since Lancz five six years since the last CBA. Until this new CBA, the the trust between players and owners, it’s in the league, it’s just degraded. Also there. There are so many players who would not who who just do not want to help Major League Baseball do a job that they feel that Major League Baseball should be doing. And so what’s interesting to me about the Mike Trout dilemma is that at this point, baseball doesn’t need Mike Trout to be that guy. Baseball has shohei Ohtani. Baseball has, you know, Vladimir Vladimir Guerrero Jr. baseball has Fernando Tatis, Bryce Harper and. So does Mike Trout need to be the guy at this point? I don’t think so because there’s a lot of interesting players elsewhere, and you do see baseball really trying to push a lot of those guys, but it is just a sport where individuality is. I mean, you really get knocked out, knocked on your ass if you if you kind of step out of line and also like just the, you know, when I think about life, the things that the NBA does to make these players stand out. You know, you have all of these like hallway shots and whatnot, like you’re just you’re just I don’t I don’t know how to make players interesting.


Jason Concepcion: I think that part of it, when I said that, I think the baseball to a certain extent is a victim of of the many decades of success that it had. What I mean is that like the NBA, because they were like distant sixth, seventh not like behind boxing, behind horse racing, behind any number of sports in their early days of of that the existence of the NBA, they had to market their sport differently than football, baseball, boxing, et cetera, and they had to focus on the stars. You know, they’re just like a famous photograph of the George Mikan Lakers, the Minneapolis Lakers at the time, playing who team is the biggest star at the time, playing the Knicks. And it just said Mike Inverse, Knicks, you know, on the on the marquee of the old Madison Square Garden. So I think a lot of that is like carryover from the way the NBA’s kind of always done it. And then there was the structural things. There’s less players on the field, you know, you can see them better, smaller court, et cetera. But I do think that some of that is a holdover from, you know, just the way it’s like NBA has always been more progressive because they had to play catch up. And now because MLB was so successful for so I mean, the good dominant sport for like a hundred years. It really grew up in it in a really fundamental way with the country like, you know, with roots in the Civil War, et cetera, that I just think it’s harder. To change the course of that ship because it’s just not in the DNA to change stuff.


Lindsey Adler: Yeah. I mean, I’m not sure what rules I would necessarily change, but I think one fallacy that I see a lot is like people who I think see themselves as traditionalists or like, you know, you can’t change these fundamental things about baseball. You can’t make the you can’t make the piece is bigger. This is a sport without a clock. We can’t add a pitch clock. It’s all, you know, producing a lot of these things that, yeah, honestly, sometimes when the league suggests them, they seem radical to me as well. But then what’s getting ignored is that is that the game has changed. The game has completely changed. You know, the way that something like, you know, velocity and strikeouts, the way that those things are valued. Of course, players are going to take forty five seconds on the mound between each pitch because their ability to get paid depends on their ability to execute every single freaking pitch that they throw. So the sport has changed. It’s just done so as a result of data and technology in front offices and not necessarily being steered by the alleged governing body of the league.


Jason Concepcion: Let me reframe then the question. Let’s put actual rule changes to the side for a second. What do you see as the the problems that baseball needs to solve?


Lindsey Adler: Access, access. I mean, and I think they are trying to solve this. They’re looking at a number of different distribution opportunities. But at the end of the day, it still costs a shit ton of money to take your children to a ball game. And Minor League Baseball is contracting, and there are just so many different things that are competing for a person’s time and especially a young person’s time. Yeah, that, you know, I think one thing you know, we keep going back to the NBA here, but like, you know, the NBA has been pretty dang generous with the way people use their highlights and their big moments.


Jason Concepcion: Yeah, that’s it’s been big. That’s change. I will say they’re tightening up.


Lindsey Adler: Yes.


Jason Concepcion: Of late.


Lindsey Adler: Yes.


Jason Concepcion: But they have been over the years, much more open handed than the NFL and MLB much more.


Lindsey Adler: Yeah. And and I remember Adam Silver saying things like, you know, like, why would we care? That’s free marketing. Well, eventually your rights holders care. But you know, the number of times in the last two years leading up to the CBA negotiations in baseball that I heard players referenced something or anything, Adam Silver has said. It’s just like this like psychic obsession with the way that Adam Silver has run the NBA, which is it’s not really apples to apples, but baseball just needs to find a way to put itself in front of people in a way that cannot be ignored anymore. And I don’t I don’t know how they do that, but they they they need to put their product in your face.


Jason Concepcion: Bomb, bada bop badaa da da daaa MLB kicks off Thursday, one p.m. in the Bronx, when the Yankees take on the Red Sox. You know what it is you know about that rivalry. You’ve heard all about it. To help us to talk about baseball, to get smarter about baseball, to learn about baseball is Mike Petriello, senior writer analyst at, co-host of the MLB Ballpark Dimensions podcast Ballpark Dimensions, a bugaboo of mine. Mike, welcome to Takeline.


Mike Petriello: Is a bugaboo a good thing? I hope so. Thank you.


Jason Concepcion: It is. I just. I. How can how can the ballparks be different sizes? What are we doing? Should they be the same? You can’t go into like an NBA arena and have like one basket is 11 feet and the other one is nine feet. Like, it’s just got to be the same.


Mike Petriello: No, it’s beautiful. Listen the Orioles changed their ballpark this year to be more neutral and it makes me mad. I want them to be weird. Weird is good.


Jason Concepcion: OK? A simple question to begin with. We’re about to embark on this new season. How thankfully are you that we aren’t experiencing a second shortened season in three years


Mike Petriello: oh extremely thankful. I mean, primarily as a baseball fan for my whole life, raising a baseball fan and as someone who derives one hundred percent of my income from baseball, I could not be happier. I’ve told this story before, Ryan’s. maybe heard me say this already, but you know, like three days after the lockout ended, you know, and free agency starting and trade starting and everything’s getting in motion. My phone’s ringing again. My wife turns to me and she says, Hey, you don’t seem as miserable today as you’ve been for the last, like two months. I’m like yes, one hundred percent true.


Lindsey Adler: Mike, so the way I see your job, you’re kind of one of the guys who is tasked with bridging the information gap between, you know, the data and information the clubs and the league received through Statcast and the way fans understand and interpret that information in, you know, in terms of viewing their favorite players or their favorite team. I’m curious if you were just a baseball fan. Not not who you are. If you were like a casual baseball fan watching the game right now, would you have any idea what’s going on or how decisions are made?


Mike Petriello: I would if I was watching one of the better broadcasts that would explain that to you and


Jason Concepcion: which which ones would those be?


Mike Petriello: Oh, well, I’m not going to name names. There are 30 broadcast teams, right? You know, more than that if you include radio, but just on TV and then there’s a handful of national broadcasts. And some of them do a really, really fantastic job. Like, I’ll name names that I’m biased because I’m friends with most of these people, right? Like Jason Benetti and Len Kaspar in Chicago and Boog Sciambi also in Chicago. You know, a couple of other people like that. They do a really fantastic job. There are some others that, you know, maybe either ignore it or actively trash on it, which I think is a shame because you don’t have to love the math. You don’t have to love the numbers. But if you want to understand why teams are doing things, I do think that’s important. It’s incumbent on the broadcast to explain those things. You know, you don’t need to know all of the really complicated math that goes into this. But if you’re being told that a guy is a bad hitter because he hits 230? Well, we know that’s not true. We know that’s not how the teams are choosing to play or pay these guys. And I feel like if I’m just picking up a game for the first time, somebody should be explaining these things to me and in a way that’s accessible, hopefully


Jason Concepcion: on that topic. I think, you know, one of the points of contention with the way NBA games are are broadcast nationally among NBA fans. A point of annoyance, I think, is, you know, you watch the Thursday TNT game or the Tuesday TNT game and you know, Shaq and Charles Barkley. A big part of these TNT broadcasts actively hate the way the game is played. They don’t like it, you know, like their their position is essentially been like legislated out of the game, although it’s been a great year for centers. Similarly, as you were saying, you know, baseball has been at the forefront of analytics in sports, really at the cutting edge. How would you bring that into the broadcast? And you said, like in an engaging way, what would you like? How who does it? Well, and what is the secret sauce to doing that to just. Getting fans smarter as they watch a game.


Mike Petriello: Well, I think first and foremost is finding the beauty in the way baseball has changed. You know, I don’t think you have to be Pollyanna about it and pretend that everything is perfect and it’s the best day in baseball history every single day because that’s not true. I want to see fewer strikeouts. I want to see more action. I want to see the game move along. I have a thousand different ideas of things I would do to improve the game, you know, because I think the game has a bright future. If some of the changes we make you know that we want to make are put in the place. But I don’t think you can go out there and say, Well, back in my day, everything was better. No, it wasn’t. No, the the the athletes today here we have in baseball are both just the best that we’ve ever had, the most talented. The young generation, I feel, is just incredibly interesting. You know, guys like Soto and Tatis and you know, Pete Alonso and on and on and on, like, they’re just really interesting. They’re getting better at using social media. You know, so I think we can kind of acknowledge that there are things that we might want to do better, but also acknowledge that the guys are incredible and everybody is making these decisions, you know, like, why am I putting the shift in place? Because it’s weird. Well, I think it’ll help me turn baseballs into outs, which I think will help me win games. You know what I mean? And so if you can explain why these things are happening and you can do it in a way that shows that you are both engaged and involved and interested like boo, Shaabi is a great example. Again, is a friend of mine, so there is a bias, right? He calls me like three times a week, asking for help, understanding something or explaining something. I, as you guys know, I was at a hockey game today and he was texting me like, How do I look up this number because he loves it, you know? But you ever watch a broadcast of his? It’s not an algebra class. He’s not like speaking over your head. He is. He’s mixing the stories he tells from like going into the clubhouse and speaking to the players and letting you know a little bit about their lives with what’s going on in the field, with what’s going on in the clubhouse and doing it all with with a joy. And I think that is like the perfect way that we should be describing baseball to people.


Lindsey Adler: Do you feel that there is a tension between baseball as an entertainment product and baseball is a product where at the end of the day, the job is to preserve out and win games?


Mike Petriello: Yes, absolutely. If I’m running a team, if I’m the general manager or the manager, my job is to win games. And if that means I’m going to play the most boring style of baseball that I could possibly come up with and that wins me games. It’s I’m going to keep my job. You know, I think there is a different level of the sport whose job it is not to win games, but to, you know, innovate and evolve the sport. And that’s, you know, the commissioner’s office. That is, to some extent, the players union. That’s not the people running the teams making the trades, but the levels above that saying, OK, how can we grow the sport? How can we make it more interesting? And if there are things we don’t like that have evolved on the field like I know lots of people hate the opener, right? Lots of people hate that. Starting pitchers don’t go deeper. Not everybody. Some people do whatever. But if you think that those are things that are bad for the sport? Change the rules. There’s really smart people in front offices. They’ll figure out something else. And if that’s annoying, change that rule too. You know what I mean? There are ways around this, but not for the people on the field. They just need to win.


Jason Concepcion: You mentioned you had a lot of ideas. Lindsay and I were talking about this just before you got on. Would love to hear some of those ideas, Mike.


Mike Petriello: Well, let me preface this by saying, even though I do write for the league’s website, I am in my basement here and I have very little pull towards actually any of these things happening. I have I have for years wanted the pitch clock to come into being, and it sounds like we’re getting really close to that. I know it’s actually been on the books like forever, but maybe will actually enforce it now. That and limiting the number of pitchers, either in a game or on a roster. I think those are the big two things, and both of those are moving. You know, I think that’s really, really going to help a lot. And I think if we can just dial back pitchers throwing at one hundred and twenty percent on every single pitch that are a move the game along and be hopefully put more balls in play because the one one issue I have is that when you say, well, I think the game needs to be sped up a little bit, then the the feedback you get is you want less baseball. You must hate baseball. It’s like, Come on man, I love baseball. I just don’t need like, you know, a Tuesday night game between the royals and the Tigers to be four and a half hours long here. So can we speed it up? Can we kill some of the dead time? So those are the big two, the pitch clock limiting pitchers. I really think those will help a lot.


Jason Concepcion: How do we deal with the velocity issue? Higher mound, shorter distance? What do we do there?


Mike Petriello: Yeah, no great question. I think lowering the mound would be interesting. A lot of this kind of comes with the unknown of will it increase pitcher injuries, right? Which is always kind of a concern. But if you go back to like, you know, the when the guys were throwing 300 innings, they weren’t throwing every single pitch as hard as they possibly could. You know, they were pacing themselves a little bit, holding something in reserve for later in the game. Nobody does that now. You know, you’re expected to come in. Every pitch is the most important pitch you’re going to throw. I don’t think we can dial back the physical improvements. The, you know, the training, the fact that guys actually train with weighted balls to learn, to throw hard know. For a long time, it was assumed you couldn’t learn velocity. And turns out that’s garbage. You absolutely can learn velocity. We’re not going to dial that back, but that kind of goes back to what I was saying about the pitch clock a little bit. There is some evidence that if you take more time between pitches and you compose yourself and take a deep breath, you can get some velocity there. You know, if we force guys to go pitch, pitch, pitch, pitch, maybe they have to pace themselves a little bit longer. Limiting the number of pitchers you can use now, if you say, Well, I’m not going to get lifted after two innings, I kind of need to give my team five innings. Maybe I’m going to pace myself to be able to do that. You know, it’s not going to undo the physical gains that these guys are incredible athletes who are trying to throw hard. But I think there are rule changes that can hopefully help with that a little bit.


Lindsey Adler: You know, Mike, this makes me think I was talking to a pitcher the other day who was saying that it’s like really weird to to pitch against the Kansas City Royals right now because they are still running a retro offense. And, you know, when they were when they were very good, it was super dynamic and they made it work. But you know, they’ve had some issues. It’s like like, you go out there, you know, you’re probably going to give up eight hits and then, but it’s going to be a total of two runs. So I’m not sure that I had thought about this previously, but I’m curious. Like so for for pitchers where they need to throw max effort and max velocity on every pitch. They’re they’re pitching to hitters who are trying to make the most out of every hit. You know, we’re we’re no longer in an era where guys are settling for singles and we’re manufacturing runs like these guys are trying to do damage. And so if you throw, you know, either the wrong pitch or, you know, 75 percent pitch like, there’s a real chance. I think it’s parked on the Moon at this point. Like, where do you where do you see the balance between where pitchers are and where hitters are at this point in the game?


Mike Petriello: Yeah, that’s a good point, because you go back to when all the shortstops looked like Luis Aparicio or Ozzie Smith and they’re like, You know, I don’t know how big Ozzie Smith was, but you know, they’re like five, eight and a hundred and sixty pounds or Phil Zito, right? And now shortstops are Fernando Tatis and Corey Seager. And you know, everybody in that lineup, I can crush the ball. So I think you’re right to some extent, we’re not going to go back to that. But I do think that, well, there’s two answers. One is an answer everybody will hate, which is that if you were to take the baseball and really deaden it and make it harder to hit home runs and make it so only that Aaron Judge and Sal Perez and the big boys like that could hit homeruns. Maybe the guys who are on the lower end of that scale will not think that’s the most optimal way for them to proceed. Does anybody in the sport want to talk about changing the properties of the baseball? I don’t think that’s a conversation anyone wants to have.


Jason Concepcion: That’s never been done and we had no one. That’s never happened has it?


Mike Petriello: it’s never happened.


Lindsey Adler: I can’t do that news cycle again. honestly, you’re going to you’re going to need to. I’ve been there, done that. I’m going to you’re going to need to find a different solution because I’m not dealing with that crap anymore.


Mike Petriello: No, absolutely. I mean, you know, so so that’s part of it. And then you can see that they’re trying to make some other rule changes around the edges to, you know, maybe inside stolen bases again. Right, like changing the size of the bases like, I don’t know how much. I don’t know how much impact that’s actually going to have, but I like that they’re trying and I like that they’re testing it out. You know, like, that’s clearly what’s on everybody’s mind, which is how can we dial back the strikeouts? Because what I’ve really I’ve learned is strikeouts are cool to watch on TV when you can, like, give them and slow them down. But they and you’re in the center field camera in HD, right? And they’re tough to watch when you’re sitting, you know, in the upper deck on the first base side and it’s like, OK, I just want to see an outfielder do something sweet. So again, we’re never going back to 1955 baseball that is never, ever, ever happening. We know so much more about it. The players are better. The talent base is larger, far more international, obviously, but I don’t think we should try to pretend we should go back to that. I mean, this is a sport that was created by, again, guys who were my height, right? I’m like five, ten and a hundred and fifty pounds. Like, I would have been an All-Star in 1880 because the guys now are huge. And every, every other sport has made changes to try to, you know, change with the times. As we talked about, I’m a hockey fan, right? Hockey for me got unwatchable around twenty five or so. Right. It was all clutch and grab. And then the guys were so much larger on the ice than guys in the 1920s have been. And it just wasn’t fun anymore. Well, they made rule changes, right? They made offense a little easier. Like we all know in football that the defense basically is not allowed to play defense anymore, right? Is that good or bad? I don’t know. But we should not treat this game as though it should be like frozen in amber from when Babe Ruth first stepped on the field. It was a different sport. There are different people. All of it’s different. Let’s try to evolve with that.


Lindsey Adler: All right, so what what do you think Babe Ruth’s slash line would be in 2021?


Mike Petriello: You know. You know, I’m the one who got Adam Ottavino to say that he could strike out.


Lindsey Adler: Oh, I’m aware and you know. We both know it’s true. We both know it’s true. He gets he gets 22 inches of horizontal break on a slider. Babe Ruth was was playing against mechanics like Let’s be real. But anyway, answer the question.


Mike Petriello: Well, I mean, it’s always like a philosophical thing, right? Is it Babe Ruth in the DeLorean transported an hour? Did Babe Ruth grow up in the 90s? And, you know, with modern training,


Jason Concepcion: we went back, Yeah, we went to.


Lindsey Adler: DeLorean.


Jason Concepcion: to19. Yeah, we went back to 1919 and we and we put him in the DeLorean and we brought him here and it took it. We let him, we let him get acclimated, like to the internet and electricity and phones and stuff. And we let that process play out for like a month, two months. So he’s not completely shell shocked when he walks into an actual MLB park, and now we’re able to bring him in and start training him up.


Mike Petriello: He wouldn’t make the roster. And here’s the thing part of it is in his day what was spring training for, right? It was working off the beer weight from the winter, right?


Jason Concepcion: Right. It was for transitioning to bourbon off of beer.


Mike Petriello: And these guys are in shape 365 days a year. And I know you said you let them get acclimated and I respect that. But not only did he not get on a cross-country flight. Not only did he never face a pitcher who wasn’t white. He never faced a 95 mile an hour slider, right? He paced. He faced pitchers who were probably throwing 85 to start with and then threw a hundred and eighty five pitches every third day, you know? So no, he would get killed in modern baseball just ruined.


Jason Concepcion: We get him a nutritionist. We get him a trainer. We get him on the treadmill, we get him doing squats. We get him doing doing bench presses.


Mike Petriello: No, no  shot,


Lindsey Adler: I mean, you know, Mike, with with the Ottavino Babe Ruth thing, and then I said something a while ago about like how it’s funny that like Cy Young, if transported in today’s modern game, would just get shelled. But now, you know, the most prestigious award for pitchers is named after him. I don’t personally think that’s disrespectful to say, you know, the Babe Ruth hasn’t faced, you know, at a wiffle ball slider or that Cy Young hasn’t faced Aaron Judge or whatever. But why do you think there is so much emotion around the idea that, like comparing era to era, it’s somehow disrespectful to guys who were very, very good for the eras that they played in.


Mike Petriello: I would be I’d be interested to know if that happens in other sports, right? I’m not much of a basketball fan, but I know George Mikan and he would probably get ruined by


Jason Concepcion: he would not say he would not. He would be playing like in the Dominican Republic or something right now. He would not even be playing one of the top 10, right? Like, I don’t think he’d even make the Slovenian league. He was 6’10, so he had decent size. But I mean, it’s a good point because when you think about the formative years of the NBA, you know, Lakers, Celtics and the great Celtics teams that won, you know, like eight out of 10 championships in the 50s and 60s, those with some very, very rare exceptions. Bill Russell, I think, would have would have had the athleticism and the and the instincts to, I think, play in today’s league. But like Bob Cousy of the Celtics, couldn’t dribble with his left hand like he would get absolutely mauled. It would be disgusting if he got out on an NBA court. But strangely, basketball fans by and large don’t have the memory that MLB fans have. No one is out here saying like, Well, this would be disrespectful to Cousy. In the end, the guys, nobody cares. It’s in weirdly like very few people think of anything that happened pre 1980. Like for I think it’s specific to basketball to NBA basketball, like the the consciousness of the sport was forged in magic versus Byrd in the 80s, and anything that happened before that kind of didn’t happen. It didn’t, really, which is sad for me as a Knicks fan. That’s when our championships happened. So nobody, nobody cares about him. But, you know, nobody. It’s not the same with MLB where it’s like, You’ve got it. We’ve got to draw through line from these guys that played in 1920 to today.


Mike Petriello: Yeah. Well, people aren’t out there respecting the one title, the Milwaukee Hawks won or something like that. I will say there’s an exception, right? Babe Ruth, I don’t think, would be that good today. I think Ted Williams would actually be good today. Oh, yeah, he’s he was built for today’s game. I mean, who would have loved Blake launch angle and exit velocity? Ted Williams, basically a scientist. So I don’t want to say like literally nobody before 1975 could survive today. I don’t think that’s true. But to your larger point, I I do think that the history of baseball is, at the same time, a huge strength and an enormous weight, right? Because, as you said, no other sport treasures the history of the game as much as baseball fans do. I mean, we’re coming up on like a hundred years almost since the 1927 Yankees. And there’s a lot of baseball fans who could name like three quarters of that lineup off the top of their head. It’s really cool that there’s so much baseball to go back on at the same time. You can really be weighed down by that. You know you you have a lot of people who are saying, I don’t want any changes. Baseball has never changed. I hear that all the time when there’s a rule change, baseball has never changed and I’m like, Hold up. First of all. Everything before 1947 barely counts in my book. But if you look at all of the other things the D.H, the wild card, you know, the closer. Yeah. Like all of it, baseball has changed constantly. You want to go back real far. While the batter used to be able to tell the pitcher where he wanted the ball to be thrown and it was thrown underhand. So yeah, baseball has changed a lot. And I don’t think we need to be afraid of saying, well, it will continue to change.


Lindsey Adler: I mean, it’s funny when you look at like not just like starter workloads from like the sixties and seventies and whatnot, but even like, you know, just the sheer number of pitchers that were used for a team across a full season. And it’s like it’s like eight, whereas the New York Yankees are considering opening the season with 16 runs on their roster. Yes, actually, the game has changed. It’s, you know, it’s interesting thinking about like Babe Ruth and today’s game versus how he operated then. I mean, you know, it’s kind of remarkable about him, you that he had the talent to be such a schlub. Whereas I watched this, I watched one of those, you know, GQ. 10 essential things videos with shohei Ohtani and so enlightening. This dude is taking his own portable racing machine on the road. He’s taking his own. Russian sleeve on the road. He’s, you know, he has a pillow that was specifically designed for his head and shoulders. All these things like so Otani is essential things are basically, you know, physical maintenance tools, which, you know, it’s just. It makes me think about the way he performs and the things that players have access to, but like, I also don’t think that most players are taking portable ice machines on the road, a compression sleeves. And you know, they said this to someone the other day and he was like, Well, you know, but I also don’t have to do both jobs like he just literally has less time in his day. But. You know, the idea that like the the energy and effort and tools that shohei Ohtani has to be shohei Ohtani for as remarkable as that is, is is pretty fascinating to me. I think and I’m you know, I’m curious, Mike, did you think that this was going to be possible for someone to do what Ohtani has done?


Mike Petriello: If anybody tells you they thought that they would see this than they are, they’re lying to you because it is almost impossible. I’ve seen him do it, and I still barely even believe that he’s doing it. You know, and unless he gets hurt, I can imagine he won’t do it again. And I know that we like to think, OK, this is like the first of many. There’s going to be more two way players and I’m sure four guys will try. But it’s so hard to do even one of the things he’s doing right to do them both at the same time. It’s it’s just words don’t really describe it. And then you think about the phenomenon he’s become like, obviously, everything he does on the field is incredible, right? But everybody who has talked to him or spoken to him is like, Hey, this guy is not only like an incredible baseball player, you know, he’s interesting. He’s handsome, he’s funny. He’s like everything you want a baseball ambassador to be. Obviously, he appeals to a global audience, not just an English-Speaking audience. And to have all of that in one package, I kind of feel like that part of it doesn’t get talked about enough like he. I don’t remember exactly when, but at some point in his youth, he wrote a list of to dos for his life, basically describing what has happened. And it’s hard to think of anybody who could love baseball more than a guy who would do that and then accomplish it. You know, on the biggest stage and what he’s done is so impressive that I’m like, I’m this close to no longer being annoyed that the Angels can’t get Mike Trout into the playoffs and be more annoyed. They can’t get Shohei Ohtani in the playoffs.


Jason Concepcion: I’m glad that you said it because I wasn’t going to go there as, listen. I’m a New Yorker that lives in L.A., so I don’t like to say things like wouldn’t it be better for the sport if Shohei Ohtani was on a marquee team? But. Wouldn’t it be better for the sport if Shohei Ohtani was like on a marquee team, wouldn’t that be great?


Mike Petriello: You know, it should be a marquee team like, you know, I know I know Anaheim is not L.A. I understand, but like, it’s still Southern California, it’s still with Mike Trout. I sort of wonder how many teams you need to expand the playoffs by to ensure they’ll get in, because I’m not. I’m not sure this year has done it, to be honest. I don’t think I would pick them right now. And that just makes me so sad because we’re we’re running out of time. And it’s not just the playoffs. I realized this the other day. We talk about how Trout hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2014 and how that stinks. Haven’t been over five hundred since 2015. What are you doing?


Jason Concepcion: That is truly nuts. Truly insane. A perfect transition to my final question. You know, we’re heading into opening day. What are some things to look out for from your perspective as we head into this new season?


Mike Petriello: Well, I think the first thing I want to see over the first couple of weeks is just how everyone has reacted to the weird offseason, right? Like, we know that the rosters are a little larger, which is how you can have abominations like a 16 man pitching staff. And also, I want to know how deep guys are going to go. I want to know how long it’s going to take them to get built up. You know what I’m really interested in, and I’m actually going to defer to Lindsey on this because you’re talking to guys in person a lot more than I am for how many years have we heard? Players say spring training is too long. Spring training is too long, right? But it’s usually the hitters saying that they’re like, We don’t need all this time. Give me three or four weeks and we’ll be fine. And the pitchers need more time, and I’ll be really fascinated to know if the how that that has happened, if the hitters actually believe that and they’re like, Hey, this is great to do this every year. And the pitchers get all upset because they’re they’re not built up. I’m just speculating. I don’t know if that’s what’ll happen. But I would really enjoy hearing guys talk about that, you know, so just like on an overall basis, that’s the number one thing I’m looking at. Number two, even though I live in New York, I’m not a Mets fan. I’m a group of Dodgers fan, but I still want to know what’s going to happen with the Mets because deGrom is hurt. Scherzer is kind of hurt, and that seems really old, like they were risky even when those guys are healthy. And if it doesn’t go well and I feel like it might not. What does that look like with that payroll and that manager and that roster, if they got off to a lousy start because Chris Bassitt no disrespect. I like him very much. Is your ace? What does that look like?


Jason Concepcion: It looks like another lost Mets season, which is the thing that I think Mets fans are acclimated to over the last 18 to 20 years. Is Mike Petrillo, MLB icon, senior writer and co-host of Ballpark Dimensions Mike. This is really fantastic. Thank you for joining us.


Mike Petriello: This was super fun, guys. Thanks for having me.


Jason Concepcion: [AD].


Jason Concepcion: In the 1970s, the percent of MLB players who were Black was about 20 percent. That has declined to somewhere around eight percent. Right about now, part of the reason for that is the dwindling relationship between the African-American community and the sport of baseball. Football and basketball has stronger connections and have for the past several decades. Some of the factors for that trend are well known or things that people talk about. However, according to Jesse Washington of ESPN’s Undefeated, it’s not just participation that’s dwindling, it’s about the bond between the sport and the culture. Jesse, welcome to Takeline


Jesse Washington: Hey. Glad to be here.


Jason Concepcion: So you’ve been working on an article that aims to take stock of the relationship between the black community and baseball? What have you found and anything that has surprised you?


Jesse Washington: Yeah. What surprised me first was that I had to take stock of my own relationship with it, and I looked up when they gave me this, this task, and I was like, Wow, I don’t care about baseball anymore. When did that happen? I grew up playing baseball. You know, I’m an older gentleman of an early hip hop vintage. Born in 1969 and I grew up loving baseball, playing baseball all the way through high school, watching on television, rooting for the Mets with Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry rooting for the Yankees. Where where Reggie and Willie Randolph and Dave Winfield. There were a lot of black ballplayers that I really admired and was fans of. And they were cool to me, and at some point, you know, fast forward to now, I couldn’t even tell you who won the World Series last year. So how did that happen? That’s the first thing that surprised me, and once I start to dove into those reasons, I started to get to some answers. The big answer to me is that. You can add the lessening influence of baseball and Black culture. You can blame it on hip hop. That’s my headline. And added to the list of things that you could blame hip hop for. You know, the crumbling of everything that’s sacred to black people is all hip hop style, including baseball. But in all seriousness, about the time when participation and interest in the black community started to wane. Hip hop was on its early trajectory of ascendancy. And there’s a lot that happened in between then, and that’s what we dive into in the show.


Jason Concepcion: So when would you say that we’re talking the late 80s, early 90s as hip hop started to move into, you know, a more West Coast inflected sound? Would you say it’s about then is and is it about, you know, when you were saying this, I suddenly realized I can’t remember the last time I heard a MLB player referenced in a rap lyric, I can’t actually remember the last time it happened


Jesse Washington: Which is a shame. Which is to say, you know, I mean, the only one that comes to mind for me is from A Tribe Called Quest. You know, got the scrawny legs, but I move like Lou Brock with speed, you know, et cetera. Yeah, man, it’s not, you know, like, I do think it is a time period that you reference Jason. You know, it’s about the late 80s in the early 90s, and there was a moment when the bomb was strong. I mean, number one, let’s just state the fact that hip hop is the reason why you and so many millions of other Americans are wearing their hats backwards right now. We invented that, you know? And Ken Griffey was the one who’s sort of really made it super hot. Ken Griffey was hip hop. Ken Griffey had a shoe that was blazing in the hood. You know, at the Griffey’s, when’s the last time you heard a baseball player, a shoe referenced as the anythings, except the I don’t want those, you know, say, like the groupies were hot. So that time period, things were good and then the culture somehow got attached. When I say the culture, I mean, you know, hip hop and everything that sort of springs around a black youth culture. The culture latched on to basketball and left baseball behind, and it’s pretty fascinating how that happened.


Lindsey Adler: I should know. Kanye West has the song Barry Bonds from 2007, which is now 15 years ago.


Jesse Washington: That’s a great point. That is a great point.


Jason Concepcion: You know, I’m just saying that had me had me slowly crawling into my grave, saying 50 years.


Lindsey Adler: Just just before Barry Bonds was kicked out of the sport. Kanye West wrote a song about him. So yeah, at least there’s that, I guess.


Jesse Washington: Is that helping? Is that helping us? I’m not sure with the where everywhere Kanye is right now?


Lindsey Adler: Yeah, yeah. Not not quite sure how the math shakes out on that one, 15, 15 years in retrospect, but you know,


Jesse Washington: and that was on a good Kanye album, too. So so we’re going to say that that’s legit. We’re going to count because that was a good Kanye.


Lindsey Adler: Yeah, it was. It was a good Kanye album. It was a it was a good Barry Bonds time. I guess we’ll take that one.


Jesse Washington: You know what, I’m going to? I mean, maybe maybe them kicking Barry Bonds out of baseball is part of the problem. You know what I’m saying? Or blacklisting him or sending him out to pasture before he was ready? You know, maybe that, you know, maybe if they would let Barry Bonds in the Hall of Fame, Black people would start watching baseball again.


Lindsey Adler: You know, Jesse with the with the high cost of playing and pursuing baseball as a career, taking a toll on the participation of young black players and African-Americans in baseball? How effective do you believe Major League Baseball’s programs like RBI or the Hank Aaron Invitational have been towards mitigating that issue? And what else do you think that they should be doing?


Jesse Washington: Yeah, I think MLB has done a really good job. I think that they’re putting a lot of resources into it, and it’s working to a certain extent. And next week I’m going to be going and watching a young kid play. His name is Kyle Giannis of Virginia Left-Handed. He right handed banger of a bat committed to play baseball at Duke, and I’m gonna go talk to him. You know, he’s in Loudon County, Virginia, shout out to Kyle and sort of get into the mix of a young black ballplayer. He was a participant in a lot of these programs, and that’s not the reason he played or didn’t give him the ability to play. But what it did was affirm, OK, you know, I’m a young black kid who plays baseball. Yes, there are hundreds of others and probably thousands of others like me out there and really give him a good environment to come up in. So I think that they’ve done a great job, but I’m going to push back a little bit on the the commonly accepted wisdom that access and cost is the barrier for black kids to get involved with baseball. Because last I checked, you needed a whole lot of equipment to play football, and that ain’t stopping us anywhere. You needed a big ol field to play football and shoulder pads and helmets and cleats. And I don’t know about a $400 bat, but you know there’s similar cost barriers. We have a basketball family. A summer of AEW ain’t cheap, you know what I mean? And families are more than willing. You know, families pay thousands of dollars up into the five figure sums to let their kids, you know, to encourage our kids to play basketball. So I think that the cost is a factor. Lindsay, I think that MLB has done a good job and is aware of it and is really trying to expand access to the game. But I think that there’s a deeper cultural. Reason behind it that even with all that access, a lot of the kids are just choosing to do something else. For example, I live in the Pittsburgh area. Josh Gibson, that was probably the greatest home run hitter of all time. His grandson, Sean Gibson, this year has a foundation, does a lot of baseball stuff. They had a league for a while, but he said, yes, we had to shut the league down because kids don’t want to play baseball in the spring. They wanted to do the spring football. They want to do seven on seven. And it was hard for us to get a commitment over these other sports, even though we had the access and it was free. So there’s more to it there, Lindsey, than just the cost and the access.


Jason Concepcion: You mentioned your heyday with baseball and rooting for both the Mets in the Yankees, which I guess I need you to unpack somehow a little bit.


Jesse Washington: OK. Yeah, big up for calling me on that. I get it. And here’s the reason because I grew up in Poughkeepsie, New York, about an hour and a half, maybe two outside of New York City. And so it wasn’t like I was in Brooklyn or in Queens or in the Bronx or, you know, in Manhattan. So I didn’t really have to like, you know, worry about that type of die hard type of situation. And also, you know what, I think it was I was looking for the black players and the black players that I read about in Sports Illustrated. You know, we didn’t we didn’t have a TV in our house, so I had to actually read stuff. So those names that were in the newspaper and stuff like that, I was intrigued by that. And and so I think that I gravitated more toward the players than I did to the actual teams.


Jason Concepcion: In your heyday of your relationship with baseball, what was it that you talked about like the black players specific like straw from the mat style strawberry Dwight Gooden? What was that relationship like at the time? And can you remember? Like, what was it that attracted you that caught your eye? And and what’s missing from that equation now? Like when I think about, you know, I was as a kid when the Mets were in their heyday, the 80s Mets were in their heyday. But what I remember was there was so much cultural cachet that that team had. It was weird, you know, because like, you know, Mets and Yankees, like most of the Mets influence was like Queens and Long Island, and the Yankees just held all of New York City other than queens. Pretty strong. But, you know, on TV, there were there were Mets players like in Marvel comic books at the time, like they would mention the winning streak that the Mets were on in the X-Men. Like, there was just like a lot of cachet. So what was it that and that was how I became acclimated to that team? So what what what was it that got you looking at these players and looking at those teams?


Jesse Washington: Yeah, Jason, it was a lot of the things that you mentioned and you know, they had a presence. The ballplayers had a presence that went beyond just the game. You know, Doc, we heard about Doc when he was still in the minor leagues, Yoda’s his young brother coming up, he’s still in heat and then he got up in his rookie year. He was mowing cats down. He was like unhittable his rookie year out the gate, and he was a couple of years older than me. He was 19. You know, if I remember correctly. And then Darryl Strawberry, he had like he was from L.A. And he had like he, you know, it’s a cliche and it’s the kid’s words. And then, you know, us in the media have taken it, ruined it. But but Dallas Strawberry had swag. First of all, his name was strawberry. You know, I’m saying. And it just the way he wiggled the bat. He was hitting home runs. And so it’s not that the players today don’t have that, but that was presented to me as a young black kid in a very attractive way, like. And I played baseball, played in Little League, played in high school, and I wanted to imitate those guys. Oh, let me see how they wear their socks. OK, yeah, I’ll wear my socks that way. Yeah, that looks cool. I didn’t go so far as the Jerry Curl diet guru, but you know, you know, like I was, you know, I looked up to them and I related to them because, you know, a lot of it was the way they were presented to me in the media. But it was a totally different media environment that then in terms of the way that I could even have access to information. And so all that has changed to a huge extent today.


Lindsey Adler: Where do you think the separation began? You know, you you noted that you feel the divide began kind of with the rise of hip hop and whatnot, and I’m curious if you could sort of elaborate on what you found on how maybe those different cultural trajectories came to be?


Jesse Washington: Yeah. So we interviewed we interviewed Chuck D for our podcast and he, you know, Chuck D is famous. You know, he had the he’s the the Pirates hat with the P on it, you know? And so what we found was that in the early parts of hip hop, we took certain baseball things that made them iconic and made them hip hop. And then one of the things that hip hop made iconic quickly was sneakers. And then it was specifically it was or not specifically, but primarily it was basketball sneakers. And there was this whole thing, you know, hip hop came from New York City and then came from other big cities. And basketball in New York City are, you know, historically and. Inseparably connected. And so the culture of hip hop was intertwined with the culture of basketball from the beginning. And so when you start going down that route and then the popularity of sneakers exploded and sneakers, there’s another thing that hip hop just made totally. Worldwide global culture when before quick rabbit hole. And I’ll come right back to this point. But I remember when I used to wear sneakers with my suits and people used to point and gawk like like my my straight laced work colleagues be like, You know, what’s wrong with you? Have you ever like, you know you? You don’t wear suits? All I do. I’m like, No, I do. I’m just making a point. Back up off me. And now it’s like my grandpa.


Jason Concepcion: Now that’s a thing. Yeah. You know, now that that’s a thing now.


Jesse Washington: Yeah. So sneakers, you know, hip hop started really identifying more with basketball. And then, of course, Jordan came, and he was the most transcendent athlete in the popularity of basketball, you know, became overwhelming. And then AI came in the mid late 90s and AI just made basketball and forced, you know, it’s funny. Baseball might be right now where the NBA was in terms of expressing yourself and not being a formist, they tried to snuff AI’s individuality out.


Jason Concepcion: Mm hmm.


Jesse Washington: You know, all you young kids out there. There was a hoop magazine. The official NBA magazine. A magazine, by the way, is something with paper that you open and you read. It’s how we used to get information before Instagram and and they had AI on a cover, the official NBA magazine. They airbrushed out his tattoos. We are worried about their image. And so it reminds me of how baseball’s uncomfortable with players of color, a lot of our Latino brothers and uncomfortable with them expressing themselves oh the hair like, do the Yankees still have a hair rule?


Lindsey Adler: Yes. Yes, they do.


Mike Petriello: Like Yo yo like yo.


Jesse Washington: I mean, and so. So it’s a long way of answering your question. So I’ll finish by just saying the culture of hip hop and basketball. Basketball took it in and, you know, with Jordan and then AI and it represented hip hop and they merged and then that’s what all the young kids gravitated to.


Lindsey Adler: This makes me think of, you know, something related, and I’m wondering if I can run just some thoughts by you. So, you know, you mentioned Chuck D in the Pirates hat and then but it was Spike Lee we who originally contacted New ERA and said, I want a Yankees hat, but I want it red. And I believe red leather and new era had to go and get approval from the Yankees and MLB and everything. And basically, now the story is that because of Spike Lee, we have a very broad variety of baseball hats. You know, you can buy a Yankees hat in pretty much any color. And I don’t think most people know that you trace that back to Spike Lee. But then also, you know, you have things like Jay-Z rapping, I made the Yankees have more famous than the Yankee can and the Yankees and the Dodgers, particularly their hats for at least a period or even now, are sort of a part of streetwear culture. But then you say you got a lot weird looks for wearing suits with sneakers. I mean, I’m me, and I show up to the ballpark in a like frilly dress and air force once every day. And then, you know, you, you know, there’s a number of players who have Jordan deals, all black players, but you have a wide variety of players wearing no interesting sneakers and cleats on the field now. And so I’m curious, like if you have any thoughts on the way that you know, things like, you know, hats or even sneakers becoming more of a mainstream thing taken out of, you know, the idea of hip hop culture or black culture, if that you think is maybe diluted the way that that can have an impact.


Jesse Washington: Man, thank you for asking, because the answer is yes. The answer is yes


Lindsey Adler: Here’s me.


Jesse Washington: And by the way, Lindsey, I didn’t know that Spike is is the reason why I could get, you know, a grayed out, you know, fitted


Lindsey Adler: I believe that is the case.


Jesse Washington: Yeah. Yeah, that’s dope


Lindsey Adler: I believer that’s the case.


Jesse Washington: I believe it. You know, so. So yeah, man, like if everybody’s you know how you know, I mean, I’m a sneaker guy, you know, but I’m just trying to figure out how sneaker to be hot if everybody’s wearing it, you know, or if if you know people who aren’t cool or wearing the sneaker, how can that sneakers still be hot? But it’s, you know, I’m trying not, you know, I’m saying like, and even me, you know, I got kids 22, 18,14. Wow. And and then I’ll be like, Yeah, you know, you think that sneakers hot? Everybody got a sticker. I got sneakers on and nobody got in this whole place and they’d be like, No, dad, that’s because nobody wants those. So, you know, I definitely young people rock on do your thing. But these iconic hip hop has. I’ve seen it gone from being hated in terms of hip hop to being embraced as mainstream. And I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, isn’t that what we wanted? Weren’t we upset when people said, Oh, that’s not music, you know? But then on the other hand, I feel a bit gentrified. And a lot of that has some overlap with these totems of authenticity that Hip-Hop created the hats, the sneakers, you know, the jerseys, you know, and things like that that have become, you know, appropriated may be too strong a word, but widely appreciated. How about that? So, so you know, and as far as now, if you’re wearing Air Force One’s Lindsay with with a frilly dress, that’s hip hop. That’s hip hop and I support that.


Lindsey Adler: I should say I was not really into sneakers in any way until I started covering baseball and I had to go into the clubhouse and see, like the Jordan brand guys getting, you know, the Dior ones for free all the time or whatever. And so I’m just like. And it’s interesting because like, I very much care about presentation and fashion and style and whatnot, and you don’t really think of like ball players that way. But like, you know, they have a lot of money and they have sponsorships and they get cool stuff, and I don’t always have access to it. But if it’s like, you know, while I see these guys rocking a pair of Jordan 3s that I really love, like, maybe I’ll buy myself a new pair of fives. And so the reason I am that person is because I’m confronted by it all the time.


Jesse Washington: Yeah. And you know, I feel I feel peer pressure if I’m if I’m in a pro clubhouse as far as like you can judge me for this, but I’mma judge, people by what they’re wearing on their feet. And so I feel judged by what’s on my feet, too. So if I’m in that, you know, I see I see pro ball players looking to see what I’m wearing on my feet. And then that may or may not affect the quality or the access of the subsequent interview, but it’s a factor that we think about.


Lindsey Adler: It’s it’s a factor. I mean, a really proud moment for me was in 2019, I was standing in the very crowded, very cramped visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park and Cameron Maybin shouts across the room, Hey, Lindsay, did you see the sneakers this guy’s got on? And he’s got some like moral monstrosities, things that I would absolutely 100 percent wear. And I was like, Good catch, man, you know? Thanks.


Jesse Washington: You’re known. You’re they know you out there in the streets. That’s awesome. That’s awesome. But yeah, that’s a great question. Thank you for asking it. You know, how can you know wearing your baseball hat has gone from being the epitome of rebelliousness and cool when Ken Griffey did it as genre defying act to, you know, to whatever it is right now, which is not cool. And so maybe baseball has to come up with something else or something. Some some transcendent personality has to come along and do something really radical style wise in order to get that heat back because they don’t have it right now.


Jason Concepcion: Something I’ve been thinking about is, I think, any medium, any time a player can express themselves, that is intriguing. That is magnetic. That’s why we watch sports no matter what it is. And it seems to me that the, you know, baseball is is more linked to the concept of unwritten rules than I think any of our major sports. Does it feel like those kind of unwritten rules are in conflict with the idea of players expressing themselves on the field in a way that maybe could drive drive interest? And I understand why because you know, you show a guy up who can throw a baseball 100 miles per hour your face. Maybe you don’t want to do that, but at the same time, it feels like those that that instinct for kind of like conservatism is pumping the brakes on what could be a. Really fun way to hype the sport.


Jesse Washington: You’re 100 percent right. And that’s something that our reporting also revealed, you know, we asked a lot of people about that. We asked him, Anderson, about that, you know, and he’s someone who’s been vocal about his experiences coming up and feeling oppressed, not from a racial perspective, but from just expressing himself as a person and as an athlete. And, you know, hip hop is something that really was a vehicle for the expression of young, black and Latino youth. That’s how it was born. And that trend, you know, planted itself into a lot into basketball, and the expression of our basketball players is at an all time high right now. I mean, I did a piece a couple of years ago just about hair on the basketball court and the variety of hairstyles of which all of them I am jealous. And and it’s just so for baseball to have a team that won’t allow you to have long hair facial hair. And then there’s all these things about how fast or slow you can run around the bases and how far you can toss the bat after you smack a homerun. It’s just it does cut down on the joy and it cuts against youth culture right now. And it’s it’s too it’s too bland and young people ain’t going out like that, so they’re not interested. And what’s going to catch their attention now is the bat flips, which I understand they are loosening up a little bit and there are some of them, you know, and all these other ways of of of getting down that, you know, baseball is is really grappling with whether or not to allow


Jason Concepcion: Lindsey what would happen of Aaron Judge’s just like, I’m growing it out, I’m growing a beard, I’m growing out, I’m drop in the back, pass the pass the neckline like I’m doing it and I don’t care who, what Brian Cashman or anybody else has to say. What would they do?


Lindsey Adler: I can say pretty confidently that Judge is not the person who would do it.


Jason Concepcion: But he’s a guy that he would need to do it to like, make it happen. You know,


Lindsey Adler: I don’t know. I mean, there was this issue a few years ago when a prospect Clint Frazier showed up and his hair was too long and then he thought that he was in compliance. He had to cut it. And then CC Sabathia, like, you know, more like a. Sort of a beard during like a spring training game to avenge him. You know, I mean, I think people kind of. I don’t know. I cannot tell how much of a big deal it is, but it is so bizarre to have to cover transactions all the time and have players show up in the clubhouse the day after the required by the Yankees. And, you know, like, I’m a pretty big baseball nerd, you know, like I can, I can probably recognize most players in baseball, you know, with some context, because I’m a sicko. And then they show up. They don’t, they don’t have beards. They look insane. It’s just it’s very I don’t know who is the person to break the cycle or how it would happen. I don’t even know how much, really. The organization totally cares about it, you know, as a whole, you know, like I don’t I don’t think Aaron Boone is sitting there telling them, you know, young men, keep your hair in compliance. It’s just, you know, it’s an organizational rule. I don’t I don’t think Boone is going to be the guy who’s like cracking down on it. But it’s it’s definitely it’s it’s bizarre. You know, and I. Thing for me is like, I just kind of feel bad because like these guys are on like TV every single night and like cameras are so good now and like, you have to worry about your performance. But then if you’re out there looking like this like weirdo with a shaved face and you don’t like it and you don’t, you don’t get a choice in your on TV. One hundred and sixty two nights, you know, for summer.


Jesse Washington: Yeah, we need somebody to fight the power. So some some sort of superstar, you know?


Jason Concepcion: And then finally, Jesse, your pod is coming out as part of ESPN’s package for the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson. What do you think is an impossible question, but what do you think? What do you think Jackie would think of the state of MLB today?


Jesse Washington: Yeah, that’s something that we asked a lot of people, you know, in and around baseball, and by far, I agree with their answer. He’d be disappointed. You know, when when Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball, baseball and Black America had a tremendously close relationship, it was a game that we loved and played and enjoyed and excelled at. And the Negro Leagues are one of the most incredible examples of black entrepreneurship and achievement in American history. And the Negro Leagues had everything that the NBA has right now. Nicknames, style legends and all the jazz musicians who were the coolest dudes in black culture at the time hung out with the black ballplayers who were the coolest dudes in black culture. Same way all the rappers in the NBA dudes hang out the same way you see all the rappers on the sidelines at courtside at the NBA game. You would see all the the best jazz musicians in the world at a baseball game, you know, at the Kansas City Monarchs or the, you know, the Pittsburgh Crawfords or something like that. And so I think that Jackie would be disappointed because he sacrificed for us to have access to this and then it has fallen by the wayside. But I do think he would be encouraged by the fact that MLB knows that there’s an issue and is really putting a lot of resources into it and and that there are a lot of tremendous black ballplayers now coming up and that and we still have a viable presence in the sport. And and I mean, hey, one of the best players in the bigs. His name is Mookie. And I don’t get any more Black Gideon that you know everybody has a Mookie around away shot to Sean Gibson. So, you know, I think he would be disappointed, but I don’t think he would despair is my answer.


Jason Concepcion: He is Jesse Washington of ESPN’s The Undefeated Jesse. Thanks so much for joining Takeline.




Jason Concepcion: That’s it for us. Follow and subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts, and don’t forget to subscribe to take one show on YouTube for exclusive video clips from this episode, plus my digital series All Caps NBA, which airs every Friday. Check it out. Goodbye. Bum bum bum. Bum Bum. Takeline is a Crooked Media production. The show is produced by Ryan Wallerson and Zuri Irvin, our executive producers are myself and Sandy Girard engineering, editing and sound design by the Great Sarah Dubalaska and the folks at Chapter four and our theme music is produced by Brian Vasquez. Mia Kellman is on the Zoom for vibes, and the vibes are fantastic all the time.